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Trump touts religious tax exemptions as bills sit in Congress

Shawn M. Carter

At the “Evangelicals for Trump” event in Miami on Friday, President Trump spoke about achieving a campaign promise for religious institutions: ending the Johnson Amendment.

The amendment, which was championed by President Lyndon Johnson when he was a Senator in 1954, is a provision in the U.S. tax code that prohibits nonprofit organizations, including religious bodies, from endorsing or denouncing political candidates.

“My administration has taken decisive action, and historic action, to protect religious liberty,” he said at El Rey Jesus Church. “Just as I promised in the campaign, we have stopped the Johnson Amendment, where they are trying to take away your tax-exempt status.”

The amendment outlines that monetary contributions to political campaigns, in addition to verbal or written support, could result in “the imposition of certain excise taxes.”

In December, Pastor Guillermo Maldonado, of the King Jesus International Ministry in Florida, encouraged churchgoers to attend the event. While some argued his comments violate the amendment, the church said it is not endorsing the president.

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“The Jan. 3 ‘Evangelicals for Trump’ event is being paid for and organized by President Trump's election campaign,” it said in a statement. “We agreed to lease space in exchange for fair compensation. No church resources are being used and our agreement to provide rental space is not an endorsement of Trump's campaign or any political party.”

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While Trump has said on several occasions that he has banished the Johnson Amendment,  it is still on the books. He did sign an executive order in May 2017 with the intent of allowing religious groups becoming more involved with political speech should they decide to pursue it. But the executive order does not ease the Johnson Amendment’s restrictions as the president does not have the constitutional authority to eliminate the law, Congress does. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-La) has introduced a bill in the House of Representatives and Sen. James Lankford (R-Ok) has done the same in the Senate, but neither has moved out of their respective committees.

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